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In Time of Stress, Americans Return to Unhealthy Habits

Americans have been living with an unprecedented level of stress ever since the September 11 attacks. And to cope, Sandra Hughes tells us, many find themselves slipping back into bad habits.

Despite the still-smoldering crime scene nearby and the newest panic over anthrax, New York's nightlife is making a comeback. Bartenders report more hard liquor is being consumed. Waiters say patrons are ordering food like it's a last meal.

"I'm going to live my life day by day. You never know what's going to happen," says one diner.

Across the country priorities are shifting and people are seeking comfort in the guilty pleasures that no longer seem to produce guilt.

"Most of us are more anxious now than we were before September 11," says Dr. Scott Saunders of UCLA. "Until we learn other ways to deal with that anxiety we are going to go to the simple ones, which are eating, drinking, smoking, and a host of other activities, many of which are unhealthy."

Says one customer as she is devouring donuts, "I just got up, threw something on, and decided to have a Krispy Kreme doughnut--and I'm a diabetic."

The result of the nation's collective noshing is being seen at weight-loss clinics across the country. Diet guru Richard Simmons says some of his clients have gone back to square 1.

"We are returning now to eating the candy bars, the french fries, the mashed potatoes, the macaroni and cheese."

Mental health experts say the constant anxiety and stress following September 11th is now compounded by new fears: the lack of airline safety, the potential for an anthrax attack, or retaliatory actions by Osama bin Laden.

"Human beings don't like not understanding or knowing what's going to happen and we don't know what's happening or what's going to happen at this moment," says Dr. Saunders.

While many are indulging because it may seem to be the one aspect of life they can control, mental health experts say it won't last forever. When Americans learn to process the changes in their lives brought about by the terror attacks, they will most likely give up these temporary vices.

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